Creating people's geographies
In an interview for CNN International, Seymour Hersh has posited a blowback explanation to the current violence in Lebanon involving new group Fatah al-Islam (see appended video clip and transcript):
“We’re in the business now of supporting the Sunnis anywhere we can against the Shia; against the Shia in Iran, against the Shia in Lebanon, that is Nasrallah … the Arabic word for it is ftna, civil war. We’re in a business of creating, in some places, Lebanon in particular, sectarian violence. …
What it is very simply is a covert program we joined in with the Saudis as part of a bigger broader program of doing everything we could to stop the spread of the Shia, the Shia world, and it just simply bit us in the rear, as it’s happened before.”
In an article entitled The Redirection, Hersh reported in March of a policy shift in US policy toward the Middle East that would oppose Iran, Syria, and their Shia allies (most significantly, Hezbollah) at any cost, even if it meant backing hardline Sunni jihadists. Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams, and Saudi national security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan reportedly settled on a policy whereby the Saudis would covertly fund the Sunni Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon, to serve as a counterweight to the Shia Hezbollah.
In the past couple of days, Hezbollah has released a statement in support of the Lebanese Army and has called for a political solution to the crisis. In a press release they have said: “We feel that there is someone out there who wants to drag the army to this confrontation and bloody struggle … to serve well-known projects and aims.” The Palestinian Fatah party have also distanced themselves from their newly formed (est 2006) namesake, Fatah al-Islam (as have the Syrian Government), calling them a “gang of criminals” according to Robert Fisk. Fisk’s own analysis seems to look elsewhere than Hersh’s thesis, though significantly he also rejects the Syrian blamecasting as “too simple.”
Though I do not find Hersh’s articulation of the fear of Hezbollah in Washington very plausible (whether he is claiming that it is genuinely held or simply propagated is not entirely clear), so far these explanations certainly make more sense than official government declamations of defeating terrorism from the Lebanese and US administrations. Unfortunately some will still buy into the framing of this conflict as a cartoonish existential fight between freedom and terrorism.
An important missing link in Hersh’s otherwise viable explanation is the absence of Israel’s neocons and their wish to see Hezbollah undermined, if not destroyed, in these covert ops.
It also comes as a US government plot to assassinate the Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has been reported (even as the State Department “reaffirms its policy against targeted assassinations” in relation to Israel’s ops against Hamas, in particular by targeting Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh).
Addendum: See also a January 2007 article: CIA Gets The Go-Ahead To Take On Hezbollah
The transcript follows. More links on the Press Picks page.
PRESENTER HALA GORANI: Well, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported back in March that in order to defeat Hezbollah, the Lebanese government supported Sunni militant groups, the same ones they’re fighting today. Seymour Hersh joins us now live from Washington. Thanks for being with us. What is the source of the financing according to your reporting on these groups, such as Fatah al-Islam in these camps of Nahr el Bared, for instance? Where are they getting the money, where are they getting the arms?
SEYMOUR HERSH: The key player are the Saudis of course, and Bandar. What I was writing about was sort of a private agreement that was made between the White House, we’re talking about Richard — Dick Cheney and Elliott Abrams, who is one of the key aides in the White House, with Bandar. And the idea was to get support, covert support, money from the Saudis, to support various hard-line jihadists, Sunni groups, particularly in Lebanon, who would be seen in case of an actual confrontation with Hezbollah — the Shia group in the southern Lebanon — would be seen as an asset, as simple as that.
GORANI: So the Siniora government, in order to counter the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon would be covertly, according to your reporting, funding groups like Fatah al-Islam that they’re having issues with right now?
HERSH: Unintended consequences once again, yes.
GORANI: And so if Saudi Arabia and the Siniora government are doing this, whether it’s unintended or not, therefore it has … the United States must have something to say about it — or not?
HERSH: Well, the United States was deeply involved. This was a covert operation that Bandar ran with us. And don’t forget, if you remember, you know, we got into the war in Afghanistan with supporting Osama bin Laden, the Mujahadin back there in the late 1980s with Bandar and with people like Elliott Abrams around, the idea being that the Saudis promised us they could control, they could control the jihadists. So we spent a lot of money and time, the United States in the late 1980s, using and supporting the jihadists to help us beat the Russians in Afghanistan and they turned on us. And we have the same pattern, not as if, you know, there’s any lessons learned. It’s the same pattern, using the Saudis again to support jihadists, the Saudis assuring us they can control these various groups, the Salafis and others, the groups like the one that is in contact right now in Tripoli with the government.
GORANI: Sure, but the Mujahadin in the ’80s was one era. Have the Americans … Why would it be in the best interest of the United States of America right now to indirectly, even if it is indirect, empower these jihadi movements that are extremists, that fight to the death in these Palestinian camps? Doesn’t it go against the interests not only of the Siniora government but also of America and Lebanon right now?
HERSH: The enemy of our enemy is our friend. The jihadist groups in Lebanon were also there to go after Nasrallah, Hezbollah. Hezbollah, which if you remember, last year defeated Israel, whether or not the Israelis want to acknowledge it. And so you have in Hezbollah, a major threat to the American — look, the American role is very simple right now. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, has been very articulate about it. We’re in the business now of supporting the Sunnis anywhere we can against the Shia; against the Shia in Iran, against the Shia in Lebanon, that is Nasrallah etc, against … so the game is really … as you could call it, the Arabic word for it is ftna, civil war. We’re in a business of creating, in some places, Lebanon in particular, sectarian violence.
GORANI: But the Bush administration, of course, officials would disagree with that, so would the Siniora government, they are openly pointing the finger at Syria, saying this is an offshoot of a Syrian group, Fatah al-Islam is, its getting its arms–where else would it get its arms from if not Syria, is the question they’ll ask.
HERSH: You have to answer this question, if that’s true, that Syria which is very close — and criticized greatly by the Bush administration for being very close to Hezbollah would also be supporting groups, Salafist groups that are very hostile to Hezbollah, that doesn’t make any sense, the logic of that just breaks down.
What it is very simply is a covert program we joined in with the Saudis as part of a bigger broader program of doing everything we could to stop the spread of the Shia, the Shia world, and it just simply bit us in the rear, as it’s happened before. Basically its very simple. These groups are seeing — when I was in Beirut doing interviews for this, I talked to senior officials of the Siniora who acknowledged the reason they were tolerating the radical jihadist groups like the one in action in Tripoli right now was because they were seen as a protection against Hezbollah.
The fear of Hezbollah in Washington, particularly in the White House, is acute. They just simply believe that Hassan Nasrallah is absolutely intent on waging war in America [!] and is capable of doing it. Whether it’s true or not is another question. But there is a supreme absolutely overwhelming fear of Hezbollah and we do not want Hezbollah to play an active role in the government in Lebanon and that’s been our policy, basically, which is to support the Siniora government, despite its weakness against the coalition that is not only Siniora but Mr. Aoun, the former military leader of Lebanon. They are in a coalition that we absolutely abhor.